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The Importance of Being Authentic

As I write this, the Marketing Academy team is in the middle of the phone interviews, looking for the future leaders of marketing. But if the successful applicants think they’ve done the hard bit, they need to think again. For those that are lucky enough to get through to the next round, they’re going to need to need to put themselves out there, warts and all. Because this is not about the finished product, is it? It’s about potential.

I was completely authentic during my phone interview with Cam. Especially when I was asked about how I’d react if my boss told me, with very short notice, that I could no longer attend an event I’d already cleared with him.

“I’d probably throw a complete tantrum, actually.”

There was a pause at the other end of the phone which I took to be my cue to backtrack. Unfortunately, in my panic, this led to me stating that this would be because I’m “an only child and that’s how we roll.”  I’d lost all feeling in my legs when I suddenly realised that Cam was laughing. She only paused to tell me that that was her favourite answer to that question, ever. And obviously, everything worked out alright for me in the end… Thanks Authenticity!

Am I stating the obvious? Maybe. But the importance of being authentic is something that every great leader I’ve encountered in the last year, from Carolyn McCall to Tim Westwood, has had in common. They know their strengths and they play to them, but without overlooking  or ignoring the trickier areas, and the impact it can have on people around them.

Carolyn McCall (CEO of EasyJet) knows that she sets the code for her team, so she takes a very hands-on approach. You’d think that, running a major airline, she wouldn’t want to shake hands with every flight-attendant she meets and ask them how they’re doing. But she does. She knows a lot of people by name and they all have her email address to they can get in touch with her directly. It’s a non-negotiable aspect of her leadership,  and the passion it requires must surely seep into her team like red wine on a cream sofa… But, you know, in a good way.

And let’s use The Big Dawg as an example for a minute too (read Helen’s blog about him.) On paper it would be easy to see Tim Westwood as a bit of a fraud. He’s a middle-class, man in his fifties who talks like a teenager from an inner-city estate. But if you ever meet him, you realise that’s part of what makes him so special.  He’s passionate about hip-hop and has immersed himself in the culture. When it changes and evolves, he goes with it. Decades after he started out, he’s still at the top of his game because people trust his judgement and his taste because he exudes a love of his chosen area of expertise. How can you not respect that? Word.

So, future scholars, have a think about what your brand is.  It doesn’t have to be a perfectly formed idea yet – that’s what this year is for. On day one of your first boot camp, you’ll sit with your fellow scholars and introduce yourself. The real you – where you’ve come from, what you want to do and who you want to be. They’ll remember what you said and they’ll act as your conscience if/when you begin to lose your way.

It’s annoying actually. When it was my turn, I talked about how, despite being a gobby cow, I am generally plagued with doubt about my capabilities and it holds me back from doing things that I enjoy. Like writing blogs. Chris Dodson remembers that, and every time I’ve met him since, he’s gently encouraged* me in one way or another to just get on with it. Like the other week, when he reminded me that I’d been promising to write a blog for the last five months…

 You have been warned.


*threatened me with Social Media ridicule. And violence.

 authenticity cartoon


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